Rosalie Harris 10-April-2007- To Life! A Celebration of Vermont Jewish Women
Ann Zinn Buffum and Sandra Stillman Gartner, project directors, interviewed Rosalie Harris on April 10, 2007 in St Johnsbury, Vermont as part of DAVARâs oral history project.
Producer DAVAR: The Vermont Jewish Women's History ProjectAudio/Visual sound, color
Rosalie Harris was born in Montreal in 1919 to parents who immigrated from Poland and Romania at the turn of the century. Her mother died when she was seven years old. Their father raised Rosalie and her sister alone. At age nine and ten, the two girls shouldered responsibility as caretakers for their home in Montreal.
Rosalie grew up in a diverse neighborhood with children of all religions and backgrounds. She was part of a large group of cousins who observed the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Her family belonged to Canada's first synagogue, Shearith Israel, also known as the Portuguese and Spanish Synagogue.
Both Rosalie and her sister went into the nursing profession and got jobs immediately after graduation at The Jewish General Hospital. Her nursing degree served Rosalie well throughout her life. She worked in Canada, Massachusetts and Vermont in both paid and volunteer health care positions. She met her husband Ben on a group date at a club in Montreal when he was visiting with friends from St. Albans, Vermont. After marrying in 1942, Ben reported to the army and Rosalie worked at a blood bank in Boston. The couple lived in Montpelier for three years running Nate's, a clothing store that Ben and his brother had started a few years earlier. In 1949, they settled in St. Johnsbury and opened a second store.
While raising three children, Gertrude, Andrea and Bill, she was active doing community service both in Congregation Beth-El and in the public schools. She helped to found the Caledonia Home Health Agency and was its president for two years. Rosalie and Ben served on the board of visitors at Lyndon State College where they established a nursing scholarship.
Throughout her life Rosalie has spoken about Judaism and its traditions in the schools and churches of St. Johnsbury. Both she and Ben were honored as Citizens of the Year for their volunteer services and commitment to interfaith dialogue.
In 2004 DAVAR: The Vermont Jewish History Project was founded by Ann Buffum and Sandy Gartner. At the time, there was no other collection of Vermont Jewish womenâs life stories. Over five year period they conducted oral history interviews with 20 Jewish women living in rural and urban Vermont ranging in age from 12 to 96. The womenâs stories reflect a wide variety of interests, beliefs and occupations including women in government, education, political and social advocacy, farming, business, the arts, homemaking and religion. Some of the women have roots going back to the early Jewish settlers in the state and others have been more recent migrants. The topics they discuss reflect the history of the times: escaping the holocaust, coping with gender discrimination, breaking into politics and medicine, converting to Judaism from another faith, and making contributions to the arts and culture.
Rosalie Harris' photo credit: Karen Pike, www.kpikephoto.com
This project was made possible in part by major grants from the Aviva Spring Foundation, Vermont Humanities Council, Damon and Marilee Buffum, Vermont Community Fund and many other individuals and organizations who have supported DAVAR through their donations.